Pubdate: Fri, 7 Aug 2009
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2009 Los Angeles Times
Author: Denise Dresser
Note: Denise Dresser, a contributing writer to Opinion, is a 
columnist for the newspaper Reforma and a professor at the Autonomous 
Technological Institute of Mexico.


Obama Must Demand an End to Abuses Linked to President Felipe 
Calderon's Drug Crackdown.

When President Obama goes to Guadalajara, Mexico, this weekend for 
the North American Leaders Summit, he will surely praise Mexican 
President Felipe Calderon for the courage he has displayed fighting 
the war on drugs. The applause is well deserved. Calderon has turned 
the crackdown on drug traffickers into the centerpiece of his 
administration and has pursued organized crime with undeniable zeal. 
But before Obama becomes too effusive and pats Calderon on the back 
for a job well done, it's important that the U.S. president remember 
the cost and the consequences of his counterpart's crusade.

In Mexico today, human rights violations committed by the military 
and the police in this effort are on the rise, yet punishment for the 
perpetrators remains elusive. So although Obama should recognize 
Calderon's efforts, he should also insist that drug lawlessness 
cannot be combated by breaking the law and that the army must be 
subjected to the kind of scrutiny it has shunned so far.

Today, more than 45,000 soldiers police the roads of Mexico's main 
cities and drug-producing areas as part of a strategy designed to 
confront drug traffickers and contain the violence they wreak. Many 
ring leaders have been captured, many drug shipments have been 
confiscated and many smugglers have been imprisoned.

But violence remains unabated, and the unintended consequences of 
Calderon's efforts have become distressingly clear: The number of 
cases of human rights violations brought before the Mexican Human 
Rights Commission has risen by 600% over the last two years.

The war on drugs is turning into a war on the civilian population 
that can't simply be dismissed as collateral damage. Mexico's 
military is capturing "capos," but it's also raping, extracting 
confessions through torture and detaining people arbitrarily. Crime 
is begetting more crime.

In light of this, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) was right this week 
to call "premature" the U.S. State Department's draft report claiming 
that Mexico has fulfilled its human rights obligations under the 
so-called Merida Initiative. He is right to remind officials on both 
sides of the border that in return for Merida's $1.4 billion in 
counter-narcotics aid from the United States, the Calderon government 
made promises it has not kept. Key among these are greater 
transparency and accountability, and the imperative that military 
officers be tried by civilian courts.

Time and again, Calderon has resisted these demands, adopting an 
increasingly contradictory stance. Calderon stands with his hand 
outstretched, asking the U.S. for more support and involvement in the 
war on drugs. But he also obstinately defends military exceptionalism 
regarding the justice system, decries U.S. intervention in Mexico's 
internal affairs and rallies Mexico's political class under the 
banner of a politically expedient anti-Americanism.

In other words, Calderon wants to have his cake and eat it too. He 
wants the helicopters and the military assistance and the money that 
the Merida Initiative will disburse without having to abide by the 
human rights commitments it contains.

So unless the Obama administration insists that those requirements be 
met, the Merida Initiative will simply be financing impunity. It will 
heighten the climate of fear that deeper binational collaboration 
sought to eradicate. It will allow the Mexican military and police 
forces to do what they do now: arbitrarily detain people, kill 
innocent bystanders at army checkpoints, threaten and abuse alleged 
suspects, ignore due process while carrying out arrests and get away 
with it because Calderon believes they can and should. In his view, 
the ends justify the means. As he defiantly stated in a recent 
interview: "The worst human rights abuses are those committed by the 
drug traffickers."

Unfortunately, Calderon's stance will undermine the cause he so 
valiantly espouses. Military abuses that go unsanctioned are 
weakening public support for the war on drugs and making it difficult 
to construct the rule of law in a country where it functions intermittently.

Until Mexico makes real progress where human rights are concerned, 
the U.S. Congress should withhold future funding for the Merida 
Initiative. Unless Calderon agrees to place military officials who 
violate human rights under the jurisdiction of civilian courts, U.S. 
support will perpetuate the status quo.

Therefore, when Obama meets with Calderon, before putting his Mexican 
counterpart on a pedestal, he should remind him of the violations 
reported by human rights sources, such as the women raped by the 
military in Chihuahua and the family killed at a military checkpoint 
in 2007 in Sinaloa, and about the 30 people arrested without a 
warrant in a church in Michoacan last weekend. All of them victims of 
crimes gone unpunished.

So many Mexicans hope that when Obama arrives in Guadalajara for the 
summit, he treads firmly and carries a big stick.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake